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411. Memorandum From Gordon Chase of the National Security Council Staff to the Presidentʼs Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1


  • British Guiana—Constitutional Conference in November

In response to your question, here are some reasons why the announcement of a Constitutional Conference2 seems a good thing.

Since we can in no way be assured that the British will stay in BG for 5 or 10 years, it is probably better to get the British out of BG sooner rather than later.
With the British in BG and the East Indian population growing, there is always the chance that the British will change the rules of the game (e.g., coalition, a new election). In this regard, it is probably true that Jagan feels he still has a chance so long as the British are around. With the British gone, Jagan himself may decide to bug out.
With the British gone, it is highly likely that Burnham will do what is necessary to ensure that Jagan does not get back into power on the wings of a growing East Indian population (e.g., import West Indian Africans; establish literacy tests for voters—these would hurt the PPP).
The chances for violence probably wonʼt increase significantly with independence. Generally speaking, the East Indians are timid compared to the Africans and, without the British to protect them, they might be even more timid. Also, it is conceivable that a British military presence could be maintained even after independence.
If Burnham does not get fairly early independence, his credibility as a national leader will be questioned—i.e., not able to deliver on his big promises.
Once we assume that relatively early independence is probably not only inevitable but also desirable, it would seem to make sense to announce it. In this regard, it should be noted that Burnham has been pressing the British very hard to live up to their previous commitment [Page 911]on a Constitutional Conference, and British reluctance (until now) to agree to a specific date strained Burnham/British relations; this, in turn, has, on occasion, led Burnham to suspect that we were encouraging the British in their stand. In short, an unpleasant situation, all around, was building up.

PS—Best guess on date of independence is mid-1966.3

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, British Guiana, Vol. III, Memos, 12/64–11/65. Secret.
  2. In telegram 182 from London, July 14, the Embassy reported that Greenwood would announce the next day in Parliament that he had proposed November 2 as the date for the British Guiana constitutional conference in London. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 19 BR GU)
  3. The postscript was handwritten by Chase.